Of the many versions of King Kong, the giant ape who threatened the world with his beauty, John Guillermin’s 1976 remake has probably received the most mixed response from audiences and critics alike. The Dino De Laurentiis-produced blockbuster starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange arrives in 4K Ultra HD from StudioCanal with a pleasing presentation that offers a suspicious new color grade. Although it drops a couple special features, the new transfer and inclusion of the Extended TV Cut in 2160p make this new release Recommended!
Finding the right balance between open-eyed wonder and reflexive cautionary tale has long been a huge narrative difficulty for any adaptation of King Kong to achieve. Dino De Laurentiis purchased the rights for the film from RKO back in 1975, then assigned writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Three Days of the Condor) to pen the script. Striving for a realistic tone that’s laced with irony, the film made a ton of money but had only earned middling-to-positive reviews in the press. As it turned out, Semple Jr.’s slightly ironic tone was a bit of a mismatch for John Guillermin, the filmmaker who just came off helming another epic titled The Towering Inferno.
Hailed for its state-of-the-art (for the era) special effects by Rick Baker, King Kong replaces the Hollywood allure of the original film with crass capitalism in ways that sometimes work. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) is the money hungry Petrox Oil Company executive who is hot and heavy about getting to an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean to access a huge deposit of oil. Along for the ride is paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) and aspiring actress Dwan (Jessica Lange), the latter of whom gets abducted by Kong.
Of the many pleasures in King Kong, it’s worth noting that casting Charles Grodin as your villain is the best idea you could ever have in 1976. His daffiness immediately blends well with the script that’s constantly taking stabs at his stupidity and blindness to nature’s wrath. I’ll say that the performance Grodin is turning in isn’t reflected by the other characters, and that does cause the film to stumble quite a bit, but a big budget blockbuster that’s openly critical of oil companies kind of sounds like something that couldn’t be made today.
The production disasters on the set of King Kong, mostly related to the bloated budget and constantly failing mechanical body of the ape, cannot be understated. That’s why there’s so many sequences of jarring blue-screen instead of something more practical. These kinds of disasters add to your appreciation of the film’s various failures, though. If you’ve never seen this version, it’s definitely worth seeking out. Just keep your expectations in check.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
King Kong beats his chest proudly in 4K with a two-disc (BD100 for UHD and BD50 for Blu-ray) release that comes housed in a thick black case with a slipcover over it. Both discs in the case fire up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, select scenes, set up audio and video or explore bonus features.
NOTE: We haven't been able to pull images direct from the discs, images are from the Shout Factory release - as soon as we can we'll update and hopefully offer a video sample.
The following message appears before King Kong starts: “StudioCanal and Paramount present this 4K restoration. The 35mm Original Negative was scanned in 4K and colour graded by Paramount. The restoration and mastering were then carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata in 2022, under the supervision of StudioCanal.”
For those who are wary of the film receiving the dreaded teal and yellow treatment, I’ve got good news and bad news. Bad news is that the source of such illusory color grading came from Paramount rather than L’Immagine Ritrovata. Good news is that this 2160p presentation is a terrific upgrade in geometry and finer details than previous Blu-ray releases.
Okay, so first, the color grade: the yellow and teal aren’t nearly as prevalent as it was in StudioCanal’s 4K releases of Cat’s Eye and Red Sonja. Certain exterior shots of blue skies and oceans definitely lay bare how revisionist this yellow-ish grade is, though other shots have strong whites and colors in close-ups. Although a bit problematic, what’s here isn’t enough to soften the many positives found throughout the presentation. Bitrate is also a bit anemic in certain scenes, which I can only imagine is because the three-hour Extended TV Cut is taking up a lot of space on the 4K disc. That being said, I didn’t find there to be any crushing or other issues because of the bitrate.
King Kong was shot in beautiful 2.39:1 widescreen using anamorphic lenses, so you have those really texturally pleasing softening effects on the edges of the frame. I’d say this new 4K restoration is a much better representation of how effects like those should look in a home video setting, rather than the somewhat-sharpened look that Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release sometimes gave off. That’s not to discount Shout’s release, as it too has positives, but I prefer the greater detail here and subtle Dolby Vision HDR layer adding some oomph.
John Barry’s lush score sounds wonderful in both the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround tracks included here, but I give the slight edge to the original stereo mix. The film has a very busy soundscape between the score and sound effects. These various sources are handled better in the stereo track than in the surround track, especially in the midrange. Plus, the original stereo mix kicked in my subwoofer nice and deep a few times.
This new StudioCanal release drops some of the special features from Shout’s 2021 Blu-ray release and doesn’t add anything new. That being said, the inclusion of the Extended TV Cut in 4K with Dolby Vision is worth much more than the features dropped, I think.
Disc 1: 4K UHD
Disc 2: Blu-ray
King Kong didn’t roar quite loud enough for people to care in 1976, but it holds up rather well as an oft-ironic piece of blockbuster entertainment. Although the new color grade is suspect on this new 4K Blu-ray release from StudioCanal, the 2160p presentation is really pleasing and the inclusion of the Extended TV Cut in 4K is a nice touch. This release comes Recommended!